Kanu (2002). In Their Own Voices: First Nations Students Identify Some Cultural Mediators of Their Learning in the Formal School System.

Kanu, Y. (2002). In Their Own Voices: First Nations Students Identify Some Cultural Mediators of Their Learning in the Formal School System. Alberta Journal of Educational Research, 48(2), 98–121.

“But what specific aspects of culture influence the learning of a particular group of students?” (p 98)

[“Introduction” (p 98)]

“… there is a dearth of research knowledge on the specific aspects or areas of culture that consistently mediate or influence the thought processes and learning of particular groups of students …” (p 99)

“Cultural variables such as the conception of time and how this affects teachers’ assessment and evaluation of students’ performance (Hamayan & Damico, 1991; Samuda, 1989), norms regarding competition and interdependence (Philips, 1983), proximity (Shade & New, 1993), nonverbal norms of communication as they assist teachers in comprehending the intended meanings of students (First, 1988; Yao, 1988), notions of fate and how this determines achievement (Lee & Krugly-Smolska, 1999), visual cues, ways of responding to persons in authority, and differences in the extent to which students are brought up to accomplish things on their own and arrive at their own independent opinions and decisions (Dao, 1991; Grossman, 1995) have all been identified as variables that must be understood by teachers. However, studies on cultural knowledge involving the understanding of the tacit variables that underlie these outward manifestations and that are seen to affect human cognition, identity, and people’s modes of perception (Lee & Krugly-Smolska) are sparse. Notable among studies in this latter category found in the literature review are Kleinfeld and Nelson’s (1991) study, [page break] which found no empirical support for the common conclusion that adapting instruction to Native Americans’ learning styles—defined in terms of visual cognitive abilities—will increase academic achievement …” (p 99-100)

[“The Research Problem” (p 100)]

“Most success has been noticed in band-controlled schools that are located on reser- [page break] ves and that serve more homogeneous groups of students in terms of linguistic and cultural heritage (Haig-Brown, Hodgson-Smith, Régnier, & Archibald, 1997).” (p 100-101)

“For the foreseeable future, therefore, efforts need to be made to infuse the preparation of teachers from mainstream culture with the history, languages, and pedagogical traditions of Aboriginal peoples, especially in provinces such as Manitoba where it is reported that the Aboriginal population has increased by 19%, that Winnipeg has the highest concentration of Aboriginal persons in an urban area in Canada, and that Aboriginal youths make up a large proportion of the school-aged population in Winnipeg (Manitoba Bureau of Statistics).” (p 101)

“For this study, culture was defined as those shared beliefs, values, and meanings that inform the educator about a learner’s culturally determined learning and thought processes. As the process of the production of meaning on which different groups draw to make sense of their world, culture is socially and historically located (Kanu, 2001).” (p 102)

[“Research Questions” (p 102)]

“4. What aspects of Aboriginal cultural socialization contribute to enhance or inhibit Aboriginal student participation and understanding when these materials, strategies, and learning tasks are used in the social studies classroom?” (p 102)

[“Research Procedures and Methods” (p 103)]

“This was an ethnographic study for which multiple data collection methods such as classroom observations, research conversations, and students’ journals, were used.” (p 104)

[“Classroom observations.” (p 104)]

[“Research conversations.” (p 104)]

[“Students’ journals.” (p 104)]

[Discussion of research/analysis process –oki]

“All data were coded and categorized using both deductive and inductive methods. … Data analysis and interpretation, therefore, incorporated both emic and etic perspectives (Jones, 1979).” (p 105)

[“Findings and Discussion” (p 105)]

[“Table 1 – Curriculum Materials, Teaching Methods or Learning Tasks, and Learning Goals in a Grade 9 Social Studies Class” (p 106-107)]

[“Themes Relating to Cultural Influences on Aboriginal Students’ Learning” (p 107)]

[“Theme 1: Traditional Aboriginal Approaches to Learning” (p 107)]

“_Learning through stories_. All the students in the study agreed that the storyreading method adopted by their social studies teacher was effective in helping them understand the concepts and messages contained in each story.” (p 107)

“Stories offer important ways for individuals to express themselves safely (e.g., convey messages of chastisement without directly preaching the message or specifically moralizing or blaming the culprit). … expectation that the listeners will make their own meaning …” (p 107)

“_Learning through observation and imitation_. … Aboriginal children have developed a learning style characterized by observation and imitation as children and adults in the extended family participate in everyday activities.” (p 108)

“It appears that although oral instructional methods such as storytelling are an important cultural approach to learning for these students, the verbal saturation that characterizes much of school instruction, especially when this instruction is fast-paced and delivered in a different language, is not conducive to academic success for them.” (p 108)

“_Community support encourages learning_. … the teaching-learning method they found most uncomfortable was when they were called on to make an oral presentation in front of the class.” (p 109)

“‘In the [Aboriginal] community, if you don’t have the right answer you are not criticized directly, and you ask for some help because you know the people that are around you, so you feel secure. Also, in the community you are doing it for the community so everyone pitches in…. In school, although you know the teacher and the other class members, you are on your own. You are doing it for your own education as an individual. As far as school is concerned, I don’t look forward to sharing my responses.'” (p 109)

“… _noninterference_, meaning refraining from directly criticizing the individual. It is also consistent with Collier (1993) who, based on her research on teaching Aboriginal students, made a suggestion: ‘never put Native students on the spot [by] asking them directly by name to answer a question in public” (p. 114).’ (p 109) (per Brant, 1990)

“Some researchers have explained the classroom silence of Native students in terms of _interference theory_, which states that Native children in nonschool contexts ‘talk a mile a minute’ and that their silence in class derives from the culture of the classroom …” (p 110)

“… membership in a certain group does not predict behavior; it only makes certain types of behavior more probable.” (p 110)

“_Learning through scaffolding_. …Forms of scaffolding identified included: direct guidance and support from the teacher through detailed and slow explanations (Jon, Liz, Rich, Mike); numerous examples (Jon, Ned, Andy); and explicit steps to follow in the performance of a given task (all except Ned).” (p 110)

“_Learning through visual sensory modes_.” (p 110)

[“Theme 2: Effective Oral Interaction Between Teacher and Aboriginal Students Assist Learning” (p 111)]

“Heath (1983) … white middle-class parents communicate with their children largely through indirect statements [page break] (e.g., ‘Is this where the scissors belong?’) whereas working-class whites and African-American parents from all socioeconomic classes are more likely to use directives such as ‘Put the scissors back on the shelf.'” (p 111-112)

“The study data strongly suggested that effective teachers of Aboriginal students offer clarity about what they demand, and they provide structures that help students produce it.” (p 112)

[“Theme 3: Concepts of Self” (p 112)]

“… the research revealed that the Aboriginal students in this study understood and described notions of the self and how the self is constructed in Aboriginal culture largely in terms of interdependence, communality, and social relatedness more than, say, Caucasian groups who frequently deemphasize the relationship between personality and culture and tend to treat the self as a relatively self-contained agent. … they identified a cultural model of learning that is grounded in Aboriginal cultural values such as cooperation, collaboration, group effort, and group rewards.” (p 112)

[“Theme 4: Curriculum Relevance Enhances Aboriginal Students’ Learning” (p 113)]

“Relevant curricula have long been acknowledged as supporting and promoting successful learning for all students, and according to the RCAP (CCG, 1996) report, this requirement is seen by Aboriginal people as one of three fundamental issues in the education of Aboriginal children and youth (the others are Aboriginal language education and Aboriginal control and parental involvement).” (p 113)

“Research participants also pointed out that in addition to positive images of Aboriginal people, curriculum should include Aboriginal perspectives, histories or traditions, and interests, all of which have foundations in their cultural heritage but which have been largely denied them in the formal school system …” (p 114)

[“Theme 5: Teacher’s Interpersonal Style” (p 115)]

“Under this theme are subsumed many subthemes that emerged to describe those dimensions of teacher interpersonal style that are effective in eliciting intellectual participation from the Aboriginal students in the study. These dimensions, in order of importance to the study participants, are as follows.” (p 115)

[“Respect” (p 115)]

“All the research participants identified respect as the most important dimension of the teacher’s interpersonal style.” (p 115)

“… Haig-Brown et al.’s. (1997) … ‘Respect encompasses the understanding that children are complete human beings given as gifts from the Great Spirit on loan to adults who share with them the responsibility for preparing them for life’s journey’ (p. 46).” (p 115)

[“Strictness” (p 115)]

“… the image of the teacher as a strict disciplinarian emerged as the second most important characteristic of the teacher’s interpersonal style. … participants seemed to expect their teachers to be strict, intolerant of nonsense, and act like the authority figures they are.” (p 115)

“… in Aboriginal culture, authority is earned through effort and exhibited by personal characteristics, as opposed to authority being achieved by the acquisition of an authoritative role.” (p 116)

“… Brant’s (1990) claim that in some Aboriginal cultures, ‘the principle of non-interference predominates. The child’s will is respected, and adults do not interfere in the choices made by the child. The imposition of the adult’s will on the child is inappropriate except, of course, in instances where the child may encounter harm.’ (CCG, 1996, p. 454).” (p 116)

“The contrast between this laissez-faire approach and the regimentation of the classroom experience, including the exertion of the teacher’s authority may constitute a discontinuity between the school and the child’s home environment. This cultural conflict has been cited in several documents as a threat to the Aboriginal child’s identity in the formal education system and a major cause of school failure (Wuttunee, in CCG , 1996).” (p 117)

[“Personal Warmth” (p 117)]

“… expected their teachers to treat them with emotional warmth and have personal relationships with them. … Haig-Brown et al.’s. (1997) report that teachers at Joe Duquette High School referred to their students as ‘extended families’ (p. 142), and students referred to their teachers as ‘friends,’ ‘second parents,’ and ‘sensitive’ (p. 122).” (p 117)

“Research shows that individualized instruction has a positive effect on student academic achievement in general. For Aboriginal students in particular, individualized instruction appears to carry added benefit because of its significance in communicating the warmth that these students perceived as important in interactions between them and their teachers.” (p 117)

[“Tentative Recommendations” (p 118)]

“1. The use of indigenous Aboriginal approaches to teaching and learning, such as storytelling and learning through observation and imitation, should be encouraged in classrooms with Aboriginal students.” (p 118)

“2. Teaching methods largely characterized by fast-paced talk as a main vehicle for bringing about students’ learning should be minimized.” (p 118)

“3. Until they have developed the skills for independent learning in the formal education system, Aboriginal students should be provided with learning scaffolds in the form of detailed explanations, numerous concrete examples of concepts under classroom discussion, and explicit steps to follow in the performance of a given learning task.” (p 118)

“4. Until conclusive research evidence emerges to disprove the claim that instruction adapted to Native groups’ visual learning style will increase learning, visually based instruction should be maximized in classrooms with Aboriginal students.” (p 118)

“5. Because of the existence of cultural differences in patterns of oral interactions, classroom communication by teachers should offer clarity (preferably in directive language) about what is required (the product) from Aboriginal students in the classroom.” (p 118)

“6. Without belittling the importance of independent thinking and independent work in the teaching of Aboriginal students, as many opportunities as possible should be provided for cooperative and collaborative group work. … elements of accountability and equitable distribution of work into cooperative or collaborative tasks … [page break] … an added benefit of small-group work for Native students is that it provides them with easier opportunities to speak and go over the material than larger-class situations.” (p 118-119)

“7. To increase motivation for learning among Aboriginal students, curriculum materials and classroom teaching-learning processes must include Aboriginal perspectives, histories, cultures, and successes and should nurture high aspirations for Aboriginal students while also exposing them to non-Aboriginal curriculum materials.” (p 119)

“8. Aboriginal students seem to expect their teachers to be strict, show personal warmth toward them, and show respect for them and for their own knowledge and experiences.” (p 119)

“9. Supportive classroom environments should be created to increase opportunities for oral participation by Aboriginal students.” (p 119)

[“Suggestion for Further Research” (p 119)”]

Selected References

  • Brant, C. (1990). Native ethics and rules of behavior. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 35, 534.
  • Canadian Communication Group. (1996). Gathering strength: Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal peoples. Ottawa: Author.
  • Collier, L. (1993). Teaching Native students at the college level. Canadian Journal of Native Education, 20, 109-117.
  • Dao, M. (1991). Designing assessment procedures for educationally at-risk Southeast Asian-American students. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 24, 594-601
  • First, J.M. (1988). Immigrant students in the US public schools: Challenges with solutions. Phi Delta Kappan, 70, 205-210.
  • Grossman, H . (1995). Special education in a diverse society. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
  • Haig-Brown, C , Hodgson-Smith, K.L., Régnier, R., & Archibald, J. (1997). Making the spirit dance within: Joe Duquette High School and an Aboriginal community. Toronto, ON: James Lorimer.
  • Hamayan, E., & Damico, J. (1991). Limiting bias in the assessment of bilingual students. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.
  • Heath, J. (1983). Ways with words: Language, life and work in communities and classrooms. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Jones, S. (1979). Integrating emic and etic approaches in the study of intercultural communication. In M. Asante, E. Newmark, & C. Blake (Eds.), Handbook of intercultural communication (pp. 57-74). Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.
  • Kanu, Y. (2001). Curriculum, culture and teacher learning: A case study of an innovative teacher education program in Pakistan. Canadian and International Education, 29(2), 21-4.
  • Kleinfeld, J.S., & Nelson, P. (1991). Adapting instruction to Native Americans’ learning styles: An iconoclastic view. Journal of Cross-cultural Psychology, 22, 273-282.
  • Lee, M., & Krugly-Smolska, E. (1999). Cultural understanding in prospective overseas teachers. Canadian and International Education, 28(1), 1-16.
  • Philips, S.U. (1983). The invisible culture: Communication in classrooms and community on the Warm Springs Indian reservation. New York: Longman.
  • Samuda, R.J. (1989). Psychometric factors in the appraisal of intelligence. In R.J. Samuda, S.L. Kong, J. Cummings, J. Pacuale-Leone, & J. Lewis (Eds.), Assessment and placement of minority students (pp. 25-40). Toronto, ON: Hogrefe.
  • Shade, B J., & New, C A . (1993). Cultural influences on learning: Teaching implications. In J.A. Banks & C A . Banks (Eds.), Multicultural education: Issues and perspectives (2nd ed., pp. 317-331). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
  • Yao, E.I. (1988, November). Working effectively with Asian migrant parents. Phi Delta Kappan, 70, 223-225.

 

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